On Making Time and Complicating Life on Purpose.

“How will you find the time?”

This has become the most asked question in my life. In exactly six months, I will move to the UK for a year, to do a Masters Program at the University of Edinburgh. It’s a crazy and terrifying and totally surreal thing to think about, and I’m very excited to have the opportunity.

But it’s got me thinking a lot about time, and the making of it (notice I don’t say ‘finding’ — I hate that phrase, ‘finding time’). Again and again and again I field a version of the question, “Why? Things are going so well for you! Why would you interrupt it? Why would you make your life more complicated? And how will you find the time?”

I don’t mind the question, exactly. But here’s my answer:

I’m a really strong believer that you expand to fill the time you have. You learn this the hard way: when you wake up fifteen minutes before a class, you discover that you can actually don clothes and sprint across campus in fourteen and a half. When you only have two hours a day to write, as I did in school–or as many do, stealing hours of time before their children wake or after they go to sleep–you discover just how focused you can be.

I have had the immense luxury for the last few years of being a full-time author. But so many people have writing careers without that luxury, some by necessity and some by choice. I believe there is room in life for writing, and room in life for more than writing. I actually believe it’s essential to make room in life for more than writing.

Imagine you can hold your work time in your hands (and let’s for the sake of argument assume you have two of them).

Now imagine that in one hand, you hold writing. In the other, you hold a job, or school, or both. Now let’s say you have the luxury to become a full-time writer, and you empty that non-writing hand. I don’t believe you should put writing in that second hand as well. In fact, for the vast majority of creative people, I don’t think you can. Or if you try, I don’t think you’ll end up with two hands’ worth of work to show for it. We have a creative capacity, and while that’s different for each person, I think it’s fairly constant for that person. A ceiling of efficiency, if you will. For me, personally, my creative capacity is roughly 3,000 words/day. I don’t enjoy writing more than that. My focus falls off, and so does my quality, and I know that about myself.

When I was in college, and stealing two hours in a coffee shop each night to write THE NEAR WITCH, I reached my creative capacity. These days, as a full-time writer, with 18 hours at my disposal instead of 2, I usually hit the same point. Yes, I get to fill the rest of the time doing a myriad of other authorly things, but the simple creative math of it is that my writing sits in one of my two hands, even when the other is free.

And even if someone can stretch themselves, push themselves, take up 8 or 10 or 18 hours of their day with writing, I don’t necessarily think they should. Even if burnout weren’t a factor, I believe that part of being a writer is finding things to write about, getting out in the world and absorbing new information and experiences.

So really, for the last few years, that’s what I’ve filled my other hand with. Movies and travel and books and research and chance and adventure and risk and wrong turns. Those are my true luxuries as a full-time author. For me, being a full-time author has allowed me neither stability nor comfort, but the ability to risk the second hand. Writing is one of the most important things in my life. It is woven into the fabric of who I am. But it cannot be the only thing. It shouldn’t be the only thing. I would not be a good writer if it were the only thing.

So “why would I complicate my life?”

Because life is for complicating.

It’s for living. It’s for taking wrong turns–and hopefully a few right ones. It’s for going on adventures, and learning new things, so that if the Archive turns out to be real, your History will be interesting enough to read ;)

And “how will I find time?”

I won’t. I’ll make it.

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18 thoughts on “On Making Time and Complicating Life on Purpose.

  1. Keisha says:

    YES!!!!!! that is what I needed to read so inspiring and realistic I wish you all the best.

  2. FANTASTIC! Life should be lived. And books should be written about our adventures! :)

  3. Liz Dark Horse says:

    It sounds like you have an incredible opportunity in front of you, and I wish you luck. Life should be lived to its fullest.

  4. Katie L says:

    I like the idea of ‘making time’. I’m going to work on changing my brain’s internal thought from finding time to making time. Thanks for this post, V, it’s really helpful and thoughtful!

  5. Absolutely fantastic. I love how you view life. You are going to fly and excel. it’s just a fact.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Thank you! As a mom of four who is *attempting* to write a book for the first time, this is exactly the kind of perspective I need.

  7. I completely agree with you! Life is for complicating! Although there are only 24 hours in a day you can fit in as much or as little into those 24 hours as you want! I wish you luck in your move and in your studies!

  8. ewein2412 says:

    YOU ARE COMING TO EDINBURGH!!!!! *dances*

  9. I’ve gotten that question. I work full time. I have kids and family. I’m also in Grad school. And on top of that, I’m trying to write. Sometimes that writing exists in that time after my kids go to bed and I fall asleep. Is it easy? No, but I would probably be bored if I didn’t have everything going on. I wouldn’t have the exposure to life that I do that helps spark the creativity. I get what you are doing and why and I’m so freaking excited for you. :D

  10. Sonder Twyful says:

    I did the same thing, but in 1989. We moved from San Francisco to Edinburgh in less than 6 months. I was so excited about the move that I didn’t have *time* to worry about how to *do* it. Big Hint: brush up on listening to *real* Scots accents and odd word usage on YouTube before you go. Edinburgh’s not too bad but Glaswegians sound like total aliens. (And, it feels like you’ve accomplished a foreign language when you *do* understand them.)

  11. […] Victoria Schwab on Making Time and Complicating Life. […]

  12. Leigh Caroline says:

    THANK YOU! A million times THIS POST. The only semester in college I ever made the deans list was the semester I was also the busiest. 18 credit hours (the max my school allowed), choir, a 20hr/week+ job, and MLing for Nanowrimo all at the same time. It was a whirlwind, and quite possibly my favorite part of school. Same thing goes when I have internship duties, contests, dayjob, and a side writing project. Because what I’ve found? The busier I am, the more I get done. Otherwise, I fill the time with BS and internet. ;) Keep rocking it, V, you can do it! <3

  13. You are spot on with your way of looking at the life of a writer, or the life of any profession. You expand to fill the hours you have.
    After I finished my PhD, I needed a new challenge. That’s how writing the novel that’s been in my mind and notebooks for years was born.
    Good luck in Scotland.

  14. […] On Making Time and Complicating Life on Purpose @ Victoria Schwab […]

  15. Karen Draper says:

    really needed to read this right now… have been wondering why I can’t churn out 5000 words a day.

  16. I all the time used to study piece of writing in news papers but now as I am
    a user of web so from now I am using net for content, thanks to web.

  17. I feel like you could also just say, “Dude, it’s SCOTLAND” and it would be a good enough reason.

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